The Court may set precedent

The ABC-Warner Bros. deal for dual playing seen as marketplace template

The deal between ABC and Warner Bros. TV for midseason drama The Court
is "the marketplace template" for the dual playing of programs on both network and cable TV, the network and the studio say. Whatever it turns out to be, it shows how seriously Hollywood is working to maximize programming investments.

The Court
deal allows ABC to take the Sally Field drama and, within eight days of its initial ABC telecast, play it again on a secondary cable outlet. The stroke for Warner Bros.: It gets extra cash (about $100,000 per episode) for the repurposed runs. Also, ABC has essentially committed to buying the off-network syndication rights to the series if it runs three seasons or more on the network.

The deal comes at a time when studios and networks continue to tighten their belts and look for ways to generate more revenue. For Disney at least, it's the wave of the future. "It is ABC's intention to talk to anyone who supplies programming to us and to utilize this template in some fashion so that ABC and its owned-and-controlled cable services can have the option to repurpose the rights," says Mark Pedowitz, ABC Entertainment TV Group's executive vice president. "It is important to ABC to help to begin to defray costs of what has become very expensive programming in either the half-hour or one-hour area."

Disney closed its $5 billion deal with News Corp. and Haim Saban for Fox Family Channel late last month; it will change the name shortly. The Court
is expected to be Disney's first programming deal for ABC Family, which is seen as a future haven for repurposed ABC and Disney fare. But network executives wouldn't go so far as to confirm its future Court

Disney-owned Touchstone TV originally developed The Court,
produced by top ER
producers John Wells and Carol Flint. When the studio and ABC conceived its repurposing package, Disney was persuaded to give up its ownership stake. ABC and Warner Bros. executives say the structure proves to actors and producers that all will be represented fairly in repurposing arrangements.

"It was incumbent upon both ABC and Warner Bros. to have crafted an arm's-length deal," says Bruce Rosenblum, Warner Bros. TV's executive vice president. "We did not want to place ourselves in a position where the creative partner on one of our shows or a supplier to one of our networks could argue that we are dealing at less than arm's length. So, by establishing this equitable deal between two very independent companies, we have set the bar for the deals going forward."

Rival network and studio executives offered mixed reviews of The Court

"We think it is a good template, and we think it's the way that we are going to be operating," says NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker. NBC has done repurposing deals with co-owned Pax TV and with USA Network for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

"I don't think that is the template for everyone," says one top studio head. "This is just a business arrangement. The element I find most interesting is, ABC is basically guaranteeing a domestic backend for the series based on longevity."